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ST. LOUIS…. The Minnesota Wild came in here last night and when it appeared that they may leave the Gateway City without a point they rallied to grab one on a Charlie Coyle tally with just over a minute left but eventually lost in the Shootout to the St. Louis Blues 4-3. Blues forward David Perron got the only tally in the SO frame. This was kind of a different tilt in some ways as the Blues seemed to have more offensive zone pressure in the first half of the game but with the Wild rallying with some very nice cycles in the 3rd. I can’t say that Devan Dubnyk or Jake Allen had epic games between the pipes but both did have some nice saves overall.
For the week the Wild ended up at 2-1-1 for 5 of 8 possible points. This leaves them at 11-7-3, or 11-10 as the Sagarin NHL Rank puts it, good for 3rd place in the NHL Western Conference Central Division with 25 points. The Blues maintain 2nd in the division at 27 points but the Wild have one game in hand over the Blues. Some good news is that if you believe in the equation that whoever is in a playoff spot at US Thanksgiving will get into the Stanley Cup tournament bodes well for the Wild. They were already in 3rd on Turkey day. I will hope that it holds true. The Wild lost their 1st contest of the week to the Dallas Stars in Dallas, 3-2 in regulation time. They handled the Winnipeg Jets in St. Paul midweek 3-1, and in their best game of the week beat the defending SC Champion Pittsburgh Penguins 6-2 also in St. Paul in a Friday matinee game.
What can I pull from this? After Saturdays games the Sagarin has the Wild ranked at 10th in the league with an 11-10 record. They would be 2-2 versus the current top 10 and 5-2 versus the current top 16. The Sagarin sliding scale of schedule strength shows the Wild with the 28th rank in that regard. For perspective the Columbus Bluejackets have the number one rank in the league, meaning they have played the toughest schedule to date. They are currently 11-9 and 11th in the Sagarin. The Wild are 5-3-2 in their Last 10. And here is a crazy comparison for you, the Wild are 1st in the league in Goals Against, (very good) 12th in goals for and sport a goal differential of +16. The Blues are carrying a minus 2 in differential and have a leg up on the Wild in the current standings. Oh well, these things will correct themselves at some point. The boys are 7-3 in St. Paul but a mere 4-4-3 on the road. They have won the season home and home series against 2 very strong Eastern Conference foes in the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I get the feeling that this club is still trying to get on top of their highest level of game. They have finally got Zach Parise back in the lineup after an injury and then illness situation and while he did not look very good in the Dallas game, (appeared to have distinct energy issues) he has steadily improved since then. I would say that the Eric Staal-Parise-Charlie Coyle line is the Wild’s strongest trio right now. D-man Christian Folin, one of the early season pluses on the blueline is out for up to a month with a lower body injury. He was playing quite well at this point in the year and has that hard nosed game this club is usually missing.
THE MONTH OF DECEMBER will hold some challenges for the team but this week is spaced out enough to allow for some positive rest cycles before the next games. The Wild will have Vancouver in St. Paul on Tuesday eve, they will be in Calgary for a Friday night game and then a Sunday contest with the Edmonton Oilers. I will state right now that if the Wild really see themselves as a playoff contender this should be a 5 point week. Vancouver and Calgary have pretty much struggled thus far in the season and while I see the Oilers making upward strides, they are still mostly a developing club. This Connor McDavid kid can play though eh? He has energized that team quite impressively.
There will be some schedule struggles this month and the team should beware. There are 14 tilts on the line and it will not be a cakewalk by any stretch. Am I being too optimistic to think they could obtain 20 of a possible 28 points? The hardest part of the month that I see is right before and after the Christmas holiday. The team has the Colorado Av’s on the 20th at home and that is always a battle game, then on the road for a very challenging back to back set versus Montreal on the 22nd, with a possible Dubnyk versus Price match-up, then on to the NY Rangers and perhaps a meeting versus King Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. Then you have the short holiday break before yet another road match-up with the thus far struggling Nashville Predators. After the Shea Weber for PK Subban trade between Montreal and Nashville most analysts thought that this was a move that would really solidify the Predators as a contending team. Not so this far into the year. Weber has bolstered the Habs defense and Montreal is 2nd in the Sagarin at 16-6 and Nashville is having a tough time of it at 10-10 for the 8th position in the Sagarin rank. They are currently in the 8 spot in the Western Wild Card race. At their current win rate I see the Wild ending up in the 98 point range provided they can maintain their pace. Will 98 points get them into the Stanley Cup tourney? They got in last season on a sub .500 record (38-44) and 87 points. Hmmmmmm…
HOCKEY NEWS OF THE WEIRD; I have found out this eve that the Florida Panthers have fired Head Coach Gerard Gallant after an earlier loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The team is at 11-10-1 so far and began the year with some key injuries. Gallant was a Jack Adams Coach of the Year finalist last year, and this group won the Atlantic division last season. Rumors are strong that there is some major front office dysfunction occurring
here. Without in-depth explaining, lets say it wasn’t hard to see this coming, and it has nothing to do with Gallants coaching abilities…. PEACE